Comic books analyzed as visual storytelling medium

Rachelle Cruz’s latest book “Experiencing Comics: An Introduction to Reading, Discussing, and Creating Comics” is displayed in the Library.

English instructor Rachelle Cruz discussed how to examine, create and learn through comics with lessons from her latest book “Experiencing Comics” in the Library on Thursday.

Cruz, who teaches poetry and a comic class at UC Riverside, says that comics are a perfect visual storytelling medium to encourage critical thinking, recursive reading and engaged comprehension.

“Students really need to slow down their reading,” Cruz said. “Comics allow them to read it really fast for the story and to enjoy it, but they can reread it and notice smaller details, and notice what’s actually going on, on the page.”

Her book “Experiencing Comics: An Introduction to Reading, Discussing, and Creating Comics” offers strategies for reading, analyzing and studying comics for students both familiar with and new to comics.

There are several features unique to experiencing comics, Cruz told the crowd of over 50 students. Encouraged by the visual elements in comics, recursive reading is when the reader will naturally reread something twice ­­— once to quickly read the storyline and get to know the characters, and a second time to further examine the comic’s structure and visual elements of color and paneling.  

While Cruz teaches about comics at UCR, the extent of comic education at OCC is when she “sneaks in” comics into her English 101 class curriculum.

She said that because of the visual elements of comics, students engage with the story much easier, and often practice recursive reading without being asked to.

At the book talk on Thursday, several students expressed an interest in a comic book club.

“Comics also help to build and strengthen students’ understanding of literary terms and theory, and also helps to connect in-class text and learning beyond the classroom,” Cruz said.

People have a long history with visual communication, dating back as far as ancient hieroglyphics.

“People have a very present relationship with this kind of communication today,” Cruz said.

Librarian Ward Smith, who helped organize the event, said that similar events have been held in years past, but he’s trying to revive more sessions like the comic book talk.

“It’s a really great way to express yourself, individually and collectively,” Smith said. “The cool thing is that these kind of topics are increasingly becoming curricular matters.”

Cruz said she wanted to write and publish “Experiencing Comics” because the comic text book used most commonly in college classes is over 25 years old and lacks contemporary voices, and she wanted a book that could create easier access for students to learn about comic terms and vocabulary.

“I wanted students to learn how to discuss comics using cultural studies theory, different kinds of theories that are out there, and also wanted to give them a sense of the history and background of comics,” Cruz said.

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